Zach Wahls Accuses Iowa Republicans Of ‘Authoritarianism’

Iowa Senate Minority Leader Zachs Wahls (D) in his office shortly after midnight on April 18, 2023.

Iowa Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls (D-Coralville) accused Iowa Senate Republicans of leaning into “authoritarianism” after they refused to answer questions during a debate on their child labor bill late Monday evening.

“This is a really serious breach of tradition in the Iowa Senate and I think it marks a really sad development for the state of our democracy,” Wahls said during an interview in his office shortly after midnight.

The issue came about when Sen. Bill Dotzler (D-Waterloo) asked Sen. Adrian Dickey (R-Packwood) to yield for a question about an amendment Dickey introduced to SF 542. Dickey refused to answer the question and Democrats went to caucus.

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After Democrats returned from caucus, Dotzler again asked Dickey to yield for a question about the child labor bill and he again refused. Dotzler then asked Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver (R-Grimes/Ankeny) if he would yield for a question and Whitver also refused.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” Dotzler said after both Republicans refused to yield for questions. “I mean, is this democracy? Is that what’s going on? We’re passing bills out of this chamber for appropriations that have no numbers in [them], the public gets cut out and now the public gets cut out because I as a senator cannot ask a single question.”

Dotzler then asked for a deferral to have more time to consider the bill and leaders from both chambers huddled for a couple of minutes before Senate President Amy Sinclair (R-Allerton) resumed the session, which prompted Senate Democrats to again go to caucus.

During that caucus, Wahls conducted an interview with reporters and accused Senate Republicans of becoming authoritarians and alleged that Whitver said members of his GOP caucus would no longer answer questions during debates on bills in light of a recent Iowa Supreme Court ruling chastising them for providing misleading information on legislation.

“Sen. Whitver told me — and I’m going to paraphrase a little bit here because I didn’t have a recorder on me — ‘We’re not going to answer questions anymore on the Senate floor. We’re done playing games,’ and then he made a direct reference to the Supreme Court case,” Wahls said of the conversation between him and Whitver.

According to the Iowa Capital Dispatch, the Iowa Supreme Court took issue with “the Iowa Legislature’s practice of ‘logrolling’ — deliberately packaging together unrelated and relatively unpopular pieces of legislation to ensure that a majority of lawmakers will support something in the bill and give the entire package their approval. The Iowa Constitution prohibits logrolling by requiring that ‘every act’ passed by lawmakers ‘shall embrace but one subject, and matters properly connected therewith.’”

Additionally, the Iowa Supreme Court ruling said former Iowa Sen. Michael Breitbach (R-Strawberry Point) “gave inaccurate responses” and “expressed ignorance” about a 2019 bill he was managing and the organizations that backed it.

While the Court’s ruling did not issue any orders against the legislature, it appears as if Republicans are prepared to use the Court’s rebuke as justification for shutting down debates over bills.

Wahls said he and the Senate Democrats were frustrated by the ignoring of Senate norms, especially Republicans’ refusal to answer questions about bills. 

“It’s a deliberative body, that’s the whole fucking point; to ask questions and to understand the legislation that’s in front of you,” Wahls said. 

This isn’t the first time Senate Republicans have drifted towards authoritarianism, according to Wahls.

“You have seen from the Republican majority sustained attacks on democratic norms in our state over the last seven years,” he said.

Wahls cited their decision to move the Iowa Capitol press corps from its bench in the Senate chamber after 140 years, passing blank budgets this session without public input, and now refusing to yield and answer questions about bills during debate as examples of their anti-democratic behavior.

“It’s incredibly, incredibly distressing that this is where we are at today and I think we should call it what it is, which is one step closer toward authoritarianism,” Wahls said. “That sounds dramatic, but I don’t think you can look at what they have done over these last several years and say this is anything other than a successive series of steps in that direction.”

Iowa Senate Republicans Communications Director Caleb Hunter did not respond to a Starting Line request for comment on Wahls’ authoritarianism claim.

by Ty Rushing

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2 Comments on "Zach Wahls Accuses Iowa Republicans Of ‘Authoritarianism’"

  • Absolutely unbelievable! Iowans, join together in total condemnation of this farce! The People’s government fails to exist in Iowa. The brazen, unprecedented act by this authoritarian Republican Majority in the senate has removed the voices of you whose elected senator in state government is a Minority member. Proof is obvious, when senators of the Minority are refused to have their questions on bills answered by this elitist ruling class. Why would the Republicans do this, you say?? It couldn’t be true, you think!! Well, folks, wake up, because it is happening, today and tomorrow, and blatantly right before your eyes! The reason is answered in the above article. The leadership fears that their members might answer a question in a manner acknowledging that the subject legislation before them comprises more than one subject, and thus unconstitutional. This position was recently rendered by the Iowa Supreme Court. Simple as that! Don’t think for a second this translates into anything other than a direct affront to democracy and replaces it with the authoritarian means by which Whitver, Sinclair and their lap-dogs operate. As reported, the Senate Republican leadership will eliminate Senate floor deliberation between members of opposing parties. That be the case, what’s the need for the Minority? The only thing remaining is to prohibit the Minority members from even attending floor debate. Why not go all the way, and have them banned from the Capitol! You just as well, because they’re basically useless to your process by leadership decree. Indeed, they’re just an impediment!
    Wake up, Iowans, and let your voice be heard, loud and clear! Enough is enough. This egregious nonsense must end, for as it is, Iowa is the only state in the nation to operate in a way totally contrary to that which was conceived to be a deliberative forum.

  • What a bunch of Fascist A-holes…
    Nationwide, I expect a reckoning in the next election to make the GOP a regional party.
    However, if nobody stands up in Iowa, They will still stand on the throat of Democracy there.

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